A look at ageing and dying

A Good Death is written by playwright Faith Ng (above), directed by Chen Yingxuan (top) and stars Karen Tan (main picture).
A Good Death is written by playwright Faith Ng , directed by Chen Yingxuan and stars Karen Tan (left).PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY
A Good Death is written by playwright Faith Ng (above), directed by Chen Yingxuan (top) and stars Karen Tan (main picture).
A Good Death is written by playwright Faith Ng , directed by Chen Yingxuan (above) and stars Karen Tan.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY
A Good Death is written by playwright Faith Ng (above), directed by Chen Yingxuan (top) and stars Karen Tan (main picture).
A Good Death is written by playwright Faith Ng (above), directed by Chen Yingxuan and stars Karen Tan.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

What is it like to age and die in Singapore?

The first play to kick off The Studios season at the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay explores this question.

A Good Death runs at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from March 29 to April 1 and has actor Karen Tan playing up to 17 minor and major roles, including those of a palliative care physician and the patients she works with at the end of their lives.

Playwright Faith Ng, who is 31 this year, was inspired by a friend who is training to be a physician in palliative care. She wondered what would compel someone to choose this career.

For director Chen Yingxuan, working on the play made her wish she had known more about palliative care and end-of-life issues much earlier.

Her father died of lung cancer five years ago and she lost her grandmother recently.

"I wish I had known these stories earlier. When it happened to me, I was quite alone," says the 28-year-old.

She had directed a 2014 reading of Ng's school play Normal, staged a year later by Checkpoint Theatre under the direction of Claire Wong.

Chen and Ng also worked together in 2015 on a play for Checkpoint Theatre's dusk-to-dawn theatre showcase, What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, at the Singapore Writers Festival.

A Good Death was a multi-layered collaboration.

Chen and Ng worked with a palliative care physician to ensure they remained "respectful and truthful" to the issues.

Personal stories from writer and performer also went into the play. Tan came on board while the script was being written and shared her own experiences of caring for ageing parents.

Despite being performed by a single actress, the play has crowd scenes and characters interrupting one another's lines. It sounds like a challenge, but Tan, a veteran performer, does not think so.

She is "preparing by not preparing", she says.

The team did bring in movement coach Lim Chin Huat to ensure that she was able to tap the potential of each role.

Chen says: "Chin Huat helped us to craft a physicality that brought out each character as a complex three-dimensional human being."

Most performances of A Good Death are already sold out.

Ng says: "We were quite surprised, but it shows that audiences are ready to have these questions about death and dying explored. They're relevant and prevalent now."

•A Good Death is sold out, except for the 3pm show on March 29, meant for students. Go to www.esplanade.com/festivals-and-series/the-studios/2018

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'A look at ageing and dying'. Print Edition | Subscribe